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NEWS | April 29, 2022

Firefighters Practice Emergency Response to Aircraft Crash

By Sean Kimmons U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs

CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- U.S. Army Garrison Japan firefighters took part in their first downed aircraft scenario in more than a year Thursday, as part of an effort to ramp up emergency training at Kastner Airfield.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, operated by two pilots and a crew chief from the U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan, simulated a crash landing that left its tail separated and resulted in severe injuries to the aircrew.

Within minutes, fire trucks responded to the mock crash scene and replicated putting out a fire, evacuating the aircrew and treating their injuries.

More than a dozen firefighters participated in the training, which is typically held quarterly but was last conducted in December 2020 due to limitations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are professional firefighters and need to respond to incidents correctly, so they want to try to get a lot of training and be prepared for a helicopter incident,” said Masahiro Watanabe, training officer for the garrison fire department.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Mattos, the aviation maintenance officer for the battalion, was one of the pilots in the scenario and noted the importance of such training.

Firefighters were able to perform a variety of procedures, he said, such as responding to a damaged aircraft, shutting it down and safely removing the aircrew from it.

“It’s still important to train on this stuff, because with the response time it definitely needs to be cut down,” Mattos said. “They can work on that, so it’s second nature if it actually happens.”

While a downed aircraft incident would most likely occur outside the installation and not in its jurisdiction, Tara Rojas, who organized the training event, agreed that emergency crews should still be prepared for the unexpected.

“Here, we can kind of practice in a controlled environment and make sure that we’re taking care of our aircrew members, just in case an accident occurs,” said Rojas, the battalion’s assistant manager for flight operations records.

Rojas said the training also helped others practice an emergency notification process that started with the aircrew sending a mayday call to the Kastner Tower, which then simultaneously notified the fire station and base operations at the airfield, the fire department, medical personnel and military police.

“We haven’t had [this type of training] in a really long time, so we’re trying to get back into the routine of performing these quarterly,” she said. “The overall goal is to continue training and practicing [for] emergencies.”

Rojas said different scenarios could be implemented for each training event to keep emergency crews on their toes.

“[We want to] make sure that people don’t get complacent and forget what their roles are supposed to be,” she said, referring to a possible incident. “Hopefully it never happens, but we just want to be prepared if or when it does.”
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